A maturing Frank Williams has Illinois off to a hot start
against a very tough schedule
When he graduated from Peoria's Manual High two years ago,
Illinois guard Frank Williams left a trail of what's known in the
vernacular as "broken ankles," the entangled legs of defenders
who were fooled by his crossover dribble. Williams's moves were
so memorable that Manual fans urged him to name them: The Catwalk
was his slinky, behind-the-back, through-the-legs crossover; the
Chicken Fajita Wrap, a bit of sleight of hand too complex to
describe here. If the Rams had the last possession of a quarter,
Manual coach Wayne McClain would order the ball to be put in the
huge hands of his point guard. "Sometimes when Frank put the ball
on the floor, his defender would literally back up, like he'd
been hit with a punch," McClain says.
But then the 6'3" Williams spent his freshman year at Illinois on
the sideline as a partial qualifier, and last season he
discovered how daunting college basketball can be. Williams
missed 13 of 17 shots in a loss to Duke as Dick Vitale keened his
disapproval during the ESPN telecast, and then he all but decided
to transfer after a loss to Michigan in which he committed six
turnovers and had no assists in 15 minutes. Careless with the
ball, heedless in his decision making, he seemed shackled by his
vast potential. "It hurt," he says of the criticism. "I tried not
to listen, but with Dick Vitale you can't help but hear."
This season, like his Manual and Illini teammates Sergio McClain
(Wayne's son) and Marcus Griffin, Williams has soared on the
fresh breeze of a coaching change. After Lon Kruger left to join
the Atlanta Hawks, Illinois lured Bill Self from Tulsa, and he
has the Illini off to a 7-2 start--with their only losses to then
No. 1 Arizona and current No. 1 Duke--and a No. 5 ranking.
Under Kruger the prime purpose of the Illinois offense was to
set screens for shooting guard Cory Bradford. Self preaches ball
reversal and motion, hoping to get everyone at least one touch
on each possession. Bradford is still dangerous, as he showed by
extending his streak of consecutive games with at least one
three-pointer to an NCAA-record-tying 73 by hitting two in
overtime during Illinois' 87-79 defeat of then No. 7 Seton Hall
last Saturday. But it was Williams who willed the Illini back
from 21 points down and into that extra period. He scored
Illinois' final four points in regulation with two high-wire
shots: a reverse layup and a switch-hands-in-midair flip not
seen in the state of Illinois since Michael Jordan retired.
Then, in overtime, Williams dropped in a key baseline jumper
while being knocked on his keister.
"At first I thought everyone wanted me to come in and do what I
did in high school," says Williams. "Then I realized that if you
play in the Big Ten or against a Top 10 team, you don't even get
a chance to throw a no-look pass. You just take care of the
fundamentals. This ain't a circus."
Even if, at times, Williams can make it look like one.
Revisiting Tuition Scandals
NCAA Amnesty Goes Unclaimed
When the NCAA suspended several players last season for
receiving improper help in covering private high school
expenses, it endured a storm of criticism that the punishment
was unjust because it was assumed that many more players had
received similar help but hadn't been caught. As a result, the
NCAA's subcommittee on student-athlete reinstatement issued a
onetime directive last May providing for a 30-day grace period,
during which schools and students would receive a reduced
penalty if the colleges revealed that they had players who had
received such impermissible assistance. The amnesty stated that
if a player had benefited from improper help, he would have to
sit out 10% of his team's games this season but would not have
to make restitution.
Now, with the season more than 30 days old, only four schools
have fessed up, a number laughably short of the total that was
predicted. The NCAA apparently isn't going to let matters rest,
however. As one school's compliance officer puts it, "If the NCAA
is going to go to all that effort to change its enforcement
process, it's not going to be for four kids."
Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of agents, gambling and
amateurism activities, has been poring through rosters with his
staff in an effort to identify players who attended private
schools before entering college. According to Saum, the NCAA has
just sent a letter to each of those players' colleges requesting
information on how the player's high school tuition was paid--a
step the college was supposed to have taken already, in response
to the amnesty directive. "If an institution knowingly and
purposefully didn't review this information, it will now have
issues greater than whether a particular student-athlete is
eligible," Saum says. "Now it'll have an issue of institutional
control." --Seth Davis
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus more from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Williams scored 21 points and handed out five assists as the Illini dealt Seton Hall its first loss.